Monday, October 18, 2010

Morbid Curiosity or Fascinating Character Study?

"I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger, except in its absolute effect--in terror."  Edgar Allan Poe

It's October and Halloween is right around the corner, so now seems an appropriate time for this post.

Call me sick, call me twisted, but I seem to have a morbid curiosity regarding true crime.  I'm fascinated by what drives people to do such things.  I also find that some great ways to develop fictional bad guys are by reading factual criminal accounts and watching televised reenactments.

A tragic local story has been in the news recently that involves a 17 year old young man who strangled his 10 year old brother.  This is a terribly sad account and I can only imagine what the parents are experiencing, as they've lost two sons.

During the courtroom proceedings (of which the parents were absent) the prosecution, as well as the public, displayed outrage because the young man showed no remorse, and never apologized for what he'd done.  In response, he did make an apology.  But the statement was chilling to hear on the news as the young man read it with the same emotion he'd use to read a book report. 

Although the youth never mentioned his sibling by name, he did say he was sorry for the murder and that he'd never forget how much his little brother meant to him and everyone else. (Really???)  Another unsettling aspect of this apology was that he spoke of how he planned to spend his time in prison (receiving his GED, taking college courses and working toward a degree), and when released, he'd go back to work at the restaurant he'd previously been employed by before the murder.  (Really???)

The prosecution didn't buy the apology, and neither did the public.  The verdict was announced last week.  The young man received life without parole, because he was only 17 when the murder was committed.  What I have since learned, is that he said he did it because he wanted to see what it would feel like to kill someone.  He also mentioned that he'd fantasized about committing murder since age 13.  I was flabbergasted upon hearing this!  What happens in some one's upbringing to make him think of such things?

When I brought the case up to my husband not long ago, he said, "I don't want to talk about it, I can't even think about it!  How can you?"

Perhaps I'm just sick and twisted.  But this case reminds me of another one, that of Leopold and Loeb.  I first became acquainted with this infamous case when I was 16, working at the library during summer break.  One of the reference books kept in the work room was called The Encyclopedia of Murder.  I tried to get to work early everyday so I could read it.  (Okay, pretty twisted, I know.) 

Maybe this is when I realized I had a morbid curiosity about true crime.  I'm not interested in horror movies, and scary books (sorry Stephen King) frighten me too much!  True crime, however, fascinates me.

If you're not familiar with Leopold and Loeb, I've provided a thumbnail summary below.  But to learn more, go here:

Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were two wealthy University of Chicago college students who murdered 14 year old Bobby Franks in 1924.  They were eventually sentenced to life in prison, and this case has inspired works of fiction, film and theater including Rope, a play by Patrick Hamilton, and a film of the same name by Alfred Hitchcock.

Both men were exceptionally intelligent.  Leopold was 19, and Loeb 18 at the time of the murder, and they believed themselves to be Nietzchean supermen, capable of committing the perfect crime.  "A superman," Leopold had written, "is on account of certain superior qualities inherent in him, exempted from the ordinary laws which govern men.  He is not liable for anything he may do."

The duo (residents of Kenwood, a wealthy Jewish suburb of Chicago at the time) spent seven months planning an elaborate kidnap and murder scheme of a neighbor, and distant relative of Loeb's.  They even planned on a way of receiving ransom money without getting caught.  Money wasn't something they needed, as their families were wealthy and provided them plenty.

The boy was kidnapped, murdered and his body disposed of.  But when the corpse was discovered, also found at the scene was a pair of eyeglasses.  Expensive ones, with a unique hinge mechanism, only purchased by three people in the Chicago area, one of whom was Nathan Leopold.  So much for the perfect crime!

Clarence Darrow was hired by Loeb's family and the trial soon became known as  "The Trial of the Century."  It was later revealed that the men were driven by the "thrill of the kill," as well as to prove that they could commit the perfect crime.

Is it just me, or do you have a morbid curiosity, too?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!


Sherry said...

I, too, am fascinated by the workings of the mind and what would cause this type of behavior. I think perhaps it is because we were raised to believe such things are unacceptable and wonder how a person can live with themselves after committing such an act. Jillian

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, Sherry. I agree! After the murder of the Franks boy, Leopold and Loeb had lunch at a hot dog stand. How could someone even function after doing something so horrendous?

William Kendall said...

You've no doubt read the book The Devil In The White City,Maria? Another twisted, evil killer.

In cases like this, there's something fundamentally wrong in the way the brain is wired. Not to the point where the killer isn't responsible for what they do. They know what they're doing is wrong. They just don't care.

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, William. No, I haven't read The Devil in the White City, but I will. The brain being wired wrong makes sense - and gives better understanding to the expression of being in your "right mind!"

Ari said...

Yep, in cases where the person who committed a murder doesn't show remorse, there's usually some sort of mental illness involved. The question is whether it's been a prior development to the crime, (eg. they're sociopathic and the only emotions they feel well are anger and fear) or whether they're in some sort of denial.

Pk Hrezo said...

Yeah, totally! I'm fascinated not by the crime itself, but by the killer's phychological defects. It's intriguing how their brains work, and how they're missing that switch that tells them that entertaining a thought and acting out on it are two totally different things.
I believe in most cases it goes back to some misfortune in their lives. But sometimes they're just bad apples. And it's extremely fascinating.

Maria McKenzie said...

Ari, that's an interesting point.

Pk,I like your missing switch comparison.

Brains being wired wrong, mental illness, or some sort of trauma are all things that can contribute to people acting out crimes.

Speaking of bad apples, has anyone ever seen the 1950's movie, The Bad Seed? Very chilling!! It's about a little girl (the granddaughter of a criminal) who's a murderer.